After “terrible service” at Panera, can this customer get a fresh start?

After a Panera trainee gets Mel Ettenson’s order wrong, he tries to contact the company. Why isn’t it responding to his complaint?

Question: I recently visited a new Panera store in my area, and I had a terrible service experience. Briefly, here’s what happened: I placed an order, but the employee got it wrong and got it wrong and it took three tries to get it right. When I asked for a manager, she told me curtly, “This is a training store,” but she also made no effort to address the problem.

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I’ve tried to contact Panera’s corporate office to let them know about this experience, but no one is responding. Can you help? — Mel Ettenson, Franklin, Mich.

Answer: How hard can it be to fix an erroneous order? As a frequent Panera customer myself, I’ve seen employees grab the wrong pastry or fill an order incorrectly, and when I bring the mistake to their attention, it’s always fixed promptly.

When a manager told you this was a “training” store, I would have asked: “Why bother opening? If you’re not ready to deal with customers, then stay closed until you are ready.”

I’m also troubled by the employee and manager’s the attitude. Either they were having a bad day or they were in the wrong business.

But there were attitude problems on both sides of this complaint. Your correspondence with Panera also had a few rough edges. You returned the company’s terseness, and you complained without suggesting a resolution. That made it easy for Panera to ignore your grievance.

A brief, polite email to Panera’s customer service executives — I list their names, numbers and addresses on my consumer advocacy site — noting your preferred resolution, should have done the trick. And when you contacted me with your problem, that’s exactly what I advised.

You sent another, more cordial email to Panera. It responded within 24 hours with an apology and enough Panera points to pay for a few lunches. You’ve indicated you’re happy with this resolution, and I hope that Panera’s management has addressed the training issues. Maybe you’ll drop by the store to see if they’re ready to lose the training wheels.

30 thoughts on “After “terrible service” at Panera, can this customer get a fresh start?

  1. “When a manager told you this was a “training” store, I would have asked: “Why bother opening? If you’re not ready to deal with customers, then stay closed until you are ready.””

    Chris, it is very common for companies to have specific stores to serve as a ‘training center’ for new hires. The new employees are trained at these stores before they start working at other locations. You can train in a classroom but the best training is in an actual store environment.

    Some companies are ‘wiser’ than other companies when it comes to ‘training stores’. These companies will have their employees in training to have name badges with “Training” or “In-Training”; therefore, they are setting the exceptions with their consumers that these new employees could be slow, could make mistakes, etc. For example, QT (which was recently appeared in this blog as one of the top place to take a road break, etc) have their new hires at their training stores to have a black ribbon on their name tag with “In Training” or “Trainee”. Fry’s Food (a Kroger brand) will have their cashier in training with a name badge stating that they are in training.

    Before making a ‘snark’ comment like “Why bother opening? If you’re not ready to deal with customers, then stay closed until you are ready.”, please understand how some companies train their new employees.

    1. agreed – and they do usually have signage letting you know they are a training store. They do have to train somewhere – its not like the training fairy sprinkles dust and thy magically know the job after all. 🙂

      1. What??? There’s no Training Fairy? Next you’ll be telling us there’s no Santa Clause or Good Tooth Fairy. I’m so sad. 😢

    2. Why devote an entire store as a training center? Seems like a chance to inflict a bad experience on customers who may not patronize the chain again. And i totally agree that trainees should be identifiable. That said, the first and foremost thing employees (on all levels) should be taught is how to deal with an irritated customer. Check the ego at the door, apologize and try to make things right. And I do agree with the “snark” comment–I don’t think it’s snarky; it’s a practical observation. What I find most troubling is the manager’s attitude of low expectations and lack of effort to make things right. Perhaps the manager is the wrong person for that position. I patronize Panera quite frequently and find the good managers are hands-on, ready and willing to step in and do whatever is necessary. A poor manager just stands around (if he or she can be found at all), and they don’t last long.

  2. Just one correction. A training store is a store used specifically for training new employees and/or management. Particularly management. The Walmart I worked at was a training store, so we were constantly rotating store and assistant managers at the completed training. That being said, the manager’s attitude is the real issue. Yes, it’s a training store. Explain that to the customer then help the trainee fix the issue. .

    1. You are correct about the manager’s attitude…the mistake by the trainee is understandable but the behavior of the manager is not acceptable.

  3. I, for one, do try and be a little patient and understanding if I know that employee is new or in training. After all, we don’t all become experts at our jobs the first day on the job. If the customer knew this was a new store, then he should have expected at least a few bumps without escalating things. I’m not excusing the manager but working with new staff and having to handle errors can be really challenging. There are few of us who can handle that kind of stress day after day!

    1. If the manager can’t handle the stress of training new trainees then ask for a transfer to a non-training location. Being in sales management for over 20 years, I had several successful sales reps that refused to move up into the management because they couldn’t dealing with average or below average sales reps.

      1. I agree but we do not know the level of rudeness of the customer nor do we have anything but his side of the story. The comment about there being attitude on both sides is telling. There are limits as to what even a manager should have to endure. I was a nurse for 45 years and was on the receiving end of a lot of really nasty comments, especially by drug seekers.. I was told by one patient that “you just have to take it because you get paid to”. Everyone wants it their way and there is no tolerance for anything but “all about me” abuse is becoming the norm and civility is fast fading.

  4. First world problem. We have to develope a little tolerance for other’s mistakes, and a little less “entitlement”. If this was a missed vacation/ wedding/ bar mitzvah, then getting upset would be more understandable. But an incorrect Panera order???

  5. What issue was there to address? The order was corrected. Would firing the new employee make everything OK?

    Was the order something overly complicated? Was it not clear to the employee exactly what was requested? Was there a language barrier between customer and employee? Was there an attitude issue? Did the customer use this as an excuse to get something free? There are lots of things than can impact how your order at a fast food place is served to you.

    As reported, the attitude of the person who I guess was the manager could be improved, but we don’t know how Mr Ettenson addressed this person as we only have his side of the story. The comment on the article about sending a “more cordial” email makes me wonder.

  6. How do we know Mel wasn’t rude and demanding? By the 3rd time they probably though it was enough. Me thinks Mel just wanted a free lunch, and when didn’t get it said manager was rude.

  7. Exactly, it’s a training store, it should give better service than usual, it’ isn’t an excuse for bad service. When we open a restaurant or food stand, post a price, it’s equivalent to sign a contract of service even no paper nor signature exist. When collect the money for the meal, I agree to provide a decent safe meal, in a certain reasonable time, as ordered with courtesy by a trained employee, etc and etc,,, Being served by a trainee is already a breach of contract, unless you let people know in advance, it’s a trainee store or you are served by a trainee that could required more patience… and may be tolerance. But the customer shouldn’t be disadvantage at any circumstance because he pay his meal, respect his term of contract of service.

  8. Thanks for “training” the customer in how to effectively complain. Perhaps the OP was a bit rough in response in the real time situation. Sometimes, a bit of patience and understanding as a customer goes a long way into getting a positive resolution. Ultimately, we’ll never know. Before anyone says I’m being harsh, I’m gathering this judgment straight from the article : “Your correspondence with Panera also had a few rough edges. You returned the company’s terseness, and you complained without suggesting a resolution. That made it easy for Panera to ignore your grievance.”

    Obviously, the OP didn’t simmer down when writing the initial complaint. I could only imagine how the exchange went in the store.

  9. Are the prices any cheaper at “training” stores, and is there any signage to inform customers of the store’s special status?

    That’s an interesting excuse they gave, never heard that one before. The closest I’ve been to a “training” store is when a newly opened chain restaurant location had a sign up that said “Closed for Training” and not taking any customers for the night.

  10. OP has entirely too much free time on his/her hands.

    Panera is a fast casual restaurant. You literally just put in an order with the cashier and they hand it to you when its ready.

  11. It is unfortunate that things escalated like this. However, when things get escalated to the corporate office, for whatever reason, they should respond. I’ve only been to Panera Bread a few times, as they don’t have them where I live, but I’ve had good luck with them.

  12. The black box above the headline says “Problem Solved”. No, the problem isn’t solved.

    Almost always, the solutions offered by vendors to customers is some sort of payoff, a refund, a voucher of some sort, miles or other loyalty points, etc. This palliative solution might be satisfactory to a single customer, and to their credit the staff members at this site fight hard to get vendors to relent and do the right thing.

    Do vendors routinely dig into the complaints to understand the underlying issues that led to customers being dissatisfied? Seems not. Do vendors seek to understand true root causes and strive to permanently correct them? Seems not, also.

    When vendors investigate thoroughly and take strong corrective action, only then can we say with any certainty that the Problem is Solved.

    1. How would have the problem been solved in this particular situation?

      Fire the cashier? Shame the cashier by posting his/her photo on this website? Have the cashier bow ten times in front of OP begging for forgiveness?

      It’s a fast casual restaurant, not a 3 star Michelin restaurant. Adjust expectations accordingly.

      1. Pride in one’s work, good managerial skills to properly train subordinates, and effectively working with customers is Not a function of the prices on the menu. Regardless of salary, I expect all people to do their jobs properly.

        There are standard techniques for identifying true root causes of problems followed by taking lasting and effective corrective action. It all starts with managers who care.

      2. Regardless what I am paying for a meal, I expect to get what I ordered in a timely manner, I expect the food to be at least edible, I expect my concerns to taken seriously. In other words, I expect to be treated as a valued customer.
        Frankly, I’ve had better service and attitude at Panera than at some Michelin-starred restaurants.

  13. Interesting. My first and last visit to Panera was a disaster. I suspect the counter person was a trainee who was not monitored (it was a very slow Sunday afternoon. I was the only customer). The other two employees were oblivious to my presence. The counter person was flummoxed as to how to take my order and put it into the system. After ten minutes I gave up and left. Never went back.

    I would think this is the worst situation for a company. Angry customer not willing to give their company a second chance.

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